Akram Aylisli

 

Aylisli Postcard Side 2

To add your name to the online petition in support of Akram Aylisli, please visit this link.

 

In 2012 Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli (b. 1937) published the second novella of his trilogy Farewell, Aylis in the Russian literary magazine Druzhba narodov.  The publication of Stone Dreams (which depicts the real-life pogroms carried out by Azerbaijanis against Armenians as the Soviet Union broke apart, as well as the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century) set off a firestorm in Azerbaijan, where some perceived the work as unpatriotic, or worse. Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev stripped Aylisli of the title of “People’s Writer” and his presidential pension. Aylisli’s books were burned, his son and wife were fired from their jobs, and he received death threats. Aylisli’s case has been chronicled by The Washington Post, The Independent, The Guardian, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Index on Censorship, and many others and championed by PEN International, Human Rights Watch, and other international human rights organizations. In 2014 supporters in Russia, the U.K, the U.S., and elsewhere nominated Aylisli for the Nobel Peace Prize. He currently lives under de facto house arrest in Azerbaijan.

Akram Aylisli books burning in Ganja RFL RE photo

Akram Aylisli’s books being burned in Ganja (photo courtesy of RFL/RE)

The three novellas of Farewell, Aylis take place over decades of transition in a country that rather resembles modern-day Azerbaijan. In Yemen, a Soviet traveler takes an afternoon stroll and finds himself suspected of defecting to America. In Stone Dreams, an actor explores the limits of one man’s ability to live a moral life amid conditions of sociopolitical upheaval, ethnic cleansing, and petty professional intrigue. In A Fantastical Traffic Jam, those who serve the aging leader of a corrupt, oil-rich country scheme to stay alive.

In 2017 Katherine Young was named a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Translation Fellow for her project to translate the entire trilogy of Aylisli’s novellas; publication is forthcoming from Academic Studies Press in 2018.  Farewell, Aylis, a new essay by the author that reflects on the political firestorm surrounding these novellas and his current situation as a prisoner of conscience in Azerbaijan, was commissioned especially for the Academic Studies Press edition.

Katherine Young is available for readings from Farewell, Aylis and speaking engagements about the book. For more information and to schedule an appearance, please contact her directly using this form. To add your name to the online petition in support of Akram Aylisli, please visit this link.

To purchase your copy of Farewell, Aylis, please visit Academic Studies Press here or order from Politics and Prose here.

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Excerpt from Farewell, Aylis

 

Chapter One: The Curious Death of an Old Coat Check Girl, the Deadly Dangerous Joke of a Famous Artist, and the Party Card-Pistol

 
The condition of the patient just delivered to the trauma department of one of the major Baku hospitals was very serious.

They took the patient, who was lying unconscious on the gurney, along the very middle of the half-lit hospital corridor that stretched the length of the whole floor to the operating room, which was located in the other wing of the building. There were two women in white lab coats and two men, also in lab coats. The surgeon himself walked beside the gurney, a spare, silver-haired man of middling height, distinguished from his colleagues by his reserve, the compelling sternness of his face, and the particular cleanliness of his lab coat.

If there was anything unusual or seemingly incongruous in this ordinary scene of hospital life, it was the tragic humor in the appearance and behavior of the person who’d brought the patient to the clinic. That small, fidgety man of fifty-five to sixty whose small face was not at all in harmony with his enormous, round belly ran around the doctor constantly repeating the same thing over and over….

— Excerpt from Stone Dreams published in Words Without Borders (read the rest of this excerpt here).

 

First Reviews for Farewell, Aylis

 

Set in a region where different languages, cultures, religions, ethnicities, and nationalities are tightly intertwined, and sometimes in horrifying tension, the stories come to life through seamless weavings of various layers of memories, dreams, deliriums, rumors, folktales, and realities…. Reading Farewell, Aylis is like sitting by the fire at night with the older men of the village and listening to their stories, which in truth are the oral history of a people and a region, which in truth could turn out to be prophecies of our own lives.

— Poupeh Missaghi, Asymptote (read full review here).

 

Advance Praise for Farewell, Aylis

 

Akram Aylisli has written of the tumultuous times in Azerbaijan on the eve of the Soviet Union’s collapse and in the immediate aftermath. Having lived through some of the chaos, corruption, ethnic strife, and regime change in Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, I can attest to the vividness and veracity of his storytelling. The next best thing to having been there yourself is to read this book.

— Richard Miles, former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, 1992–1993

In the fall of 2011 Akram Aylisli, Azerbaijan’s most important writer, turned in a manuscript that he’d been afraid to publish for six years – this book [Stone Dreams]…. The book had the effect of a bomb exploding. Aylisli was the first Turkic-language writer to write a novel about the Armenian genocide that was deep, personal, and full of suffering. The book allowed thousands of Azeris and Armenians to see one another sympathetically, without hatred. And a huge number of people on both sides are grateful to Aylisli for that.

— Shura Burtin, Russian journalist

In countries like Azerbaijan, speaking out against those in power or against the majority view, is not just an act of bravery, it becomes an act of great personal risk. Akram Aylisli’s ‘non-traditional’ novel explores what connects us across countries and across religions to ask not just what it means to be human but also what it means to be humane—and is a timely reminder for those in supposedly democratic countries of the way in which the powerful use the language of nationalism and populism to demonise minorities. His evocations of the beauty of his homeland are set powerfully against the horrors committed on that land, making his writing both love sonnet and eulogy—the kind of love that Aylisi himself describes as a ‘clear mirror.’ The world needs writers like Aylisli who are willing to take the risk to hold up such a mirror.

— Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship

Ayıslı once again reminds us that human blood can only be cleansed with words and the banality of human history can only be cured through the long brewed grace of great literature. Ayıslı tries to bring the stories of cruelty to make one single human story where every one of us can see her or himself.

— Ece Temelkuran, Turkish journalist 

Reading Stone Dreams, I was lost between the world of Aylis and the world of Baku in which Sadai Sadygly exists in those final days of his life. Beaten up by a mob for trying to save an old Armenian, Sadai re-lives the part of his life when Azerbaijanis and Armenians lived together and regarded one another as fellow humans worthy of respect. For writing about this so honestly, Akram Aylisli and his family members have been persecuted by a regime that today shows no respect even for its own citizens and foments hatred against Armenians.

— Richard Kauzlarich, former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, 1994–1997

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